Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Weekend Retreat Can’t Be Beat

This week, my humor column, “A Matter of Laugh or Death,” discusses my adventures on a recent weekend retreat at Holy Family Retreat Center in West Hartford. Because that essay gets published in a secular newspaper, I did not delve into the religious aspects of the retreat. But since these “Merry Catholic” essays are routinely used as teaching tools by Vatican theologians (yeah, sure!), I'd like to share an interesting spiritual incident that occurred during the retreat.

Over the years, I’ve attended many weekend retreats, usually with a group of guys from my parish. This year I did not go when my parish was scheduled because my calendar was too jammed up. But later on, in early April, I decided I really needed to go on retreat, so I signed up at the last minute. 
The week before the retreat, a local church hosted a Lenten mission, and at one of those gatherings I went to Confession. So, on retreat the following week, I had no plans of going to Confession again, since I had just gone. Being a “once or twice per year” kind of guy regarding Confession (except during Covid, when I got quite comfortable being a “none per year” kind of guy), I figured the priest would look at me funny if I said, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been 9 days since my last Confession.” He’d either think I was wasting his time, or that I was some kind of Jekyll and Hyde weirdo: penitent Catholic during the day and serial criminal at night. 

Well, during one of the workshops, the speaker quoted Martin Luther. (Yes, THAT Martin Luther! Pretty amazing for a Catholic event, huh?) Luther once said, “Whatever your heart clings to is really your god.”

I said to myself, “Well, my heart clings to my wife and children and grandson, but I don’t think that’s what Marty meant.” (In my mind I call the founder of the Protestant Reformation “Marty.” It might be a bit flippant, but it’s a lot nicer than what the nuns teaching my catechism classes in the 1960s called him.)

I thought some more, and started to realize that my heart clings to a lot of other things, especially my precious stuff. I’m attached to my home and car and 401k and bank accounts. But I really love my electronic gizmos, my iPhone and laptop computer and iPad and Airpods Pro (which are, if you’re not sure, amazing Bluetooth earbuds). 
First, I asked myself, “Do I love those things more than I love God?” Instead of the correct answer: “No, of course not,” I had this thought: “Well… can’t I love God and still love all my stuff, too?”

It was at that moment that I said to myself, “Self, you need to go to Confession ‘cause I think you’re dabbling with idolatry here.”

So, that’s just what I did. And when I said to the priest, “...it’s been 9 days since my last Confession,” he did look at me kind of funny, but when I explained how the earlier workshop had awakened my conscience, he smiled knowingly and was very helpful. Then he said to me, “You lack one thing. Go and sell all your possessions and give to the poor. Then come follow Jesus.”

No, I’m kidding! The priest did not compare me to the Rich Young Ruler in the gospel. Besides, I’m not rich, I’m not young, and I don’t rule anything except maybe the TV remote. If there was a gospel story about me, I’d be called the Middle-class, Middle-aged, Middle manager.
Anyway, the priest gave me absolution, and encouraged me to be careful that I don’t become “possessed by my possessions.” I suspect I’m not the only person these days that is a little too attached to stuff, especially electronic gizmos.

I’m very glad I made the decision to go on a weekend retreat. And going forward, I’ll be much more careful about what my heart clings to. So, thank you very much, Fr. D., and thank you, Marty!

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